The Producer's Ear: January 2009

In a recent column, I introduced you to the idea of seeking out the highest possible quality in digital-audio-file playback. At first, it's surprising, but when you begin to understand what's being given and what's being taken away, it actually makes sense. One of the discoveries of the S&V Vinyl Listening Club (June 2008) was that LPs cut from digital source material exhibit the same "feel" characteristics as CDs. The vinyl doesn't "fix" anything, but it does allow analog source material to remain completely analog.

As I write this, I'm listening to Wayne Shorter's classic 1974 jazz recording Native Dancer, featuring noted Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento. I've applied the RealFeel process (more on that in a bit), and upon hearing it, I'm transported back to the control room, mixing the record. It's as close to analog as you can get. I feel the only way to demonstrate this properly is to let you hear for yourself, so we're posting examples here soon.

You'll need to listen carefully. As the name implies, it's about feel more than sound. You'll notice a sonic difference but, more than that, a visceral quality that you can feel in your body. Go back and forth between the files with and without RealFeel and listen as many ways as possible -- at different volumes, and on speakers and headphones. Notice the smoothness of the highest frequencies and the solidness of the lowest frequencies. You'll also have an increased ability to perceive dimensional characteristics. The depth, width, and height of the sound field are more apparent.

Upon hearing RealFeel, James D. Johnston (Audio Architect, Codecs Group for Microsoft, and developer of the MP3 codec) told me and audio gurus Richard Burwen and Mark Levinson that he felt it deserved to be the new digital-audio-file standard. This is the first solution to the loss of emotional content/feel in the digital-audio world that I believe really works. I look forward to your feedback. Until next time, happy listening.

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